It was the boozy hour of 1:30 a.m. during a recent party in Carroll Gardens, and the 30-something hostess was telling a flock of women a story about a friend who moved to Berlin last year, after a series of tragic breakups, and met a man who almost immediately wanted to marry her. There were “oohs” and “aahs” all around. The women had to contain themselves from outright applause.
The hostess looked over at her live-in boyfriend of several years, who was sitting across the room with the other boyfriends. “I guess nowadays you have to go to Europe to find a husband,” she said, looking at the fair, upturned faces around her.
The collective sigh that evening was in reference to the stubborn, New York man-child with his perpetual fear of marriage and confused (“I love you, now go away”) approach to relationships. It is now an entrenched cultural truth: A desirable woman in her 30s could meet someone, date for a while, enter a relationship, spend Thanksgiving at her boyfriend’s parents’ house, rent an apartment together, adopt a pet, wash his skivvies for years and still: Long-term commitment is not guaranteed.
“I think in New York you could get to a certain stage with someone and then they turn things around on you, like you imagined this whole thing when you know you didn’t imagine it, and they just freak out and disappear,” said Lisa Locascio, 25, who moved from New York to the West Coast in August to pursue a Ph.D. in creative writing at the University of Southern California.
Ms. Locascio is one of many women becoming aware of an alternative: a man to be found across seas and oceans (or in Ph.D. programs around our city) who’s not just tolerant of but actively seeking domestic bliss. She met a Danish man, a visiting scholar, at a September barbecue, and they got engaged over the holidays.
Ms. Locascio described her New York dating experience, with commitment-fearful men between the ages of 25 and 37, as “horrific.” But in her current relationship: “I just didn’t feel like the idea of marriage or commitment was taboo,” she said contentedly. “I always felt like you could never raise those questions, but my boyfriend now is just so certain about our relationship, and he doesn’t get scared when you bring this stuff up.”
Jane Yager, 31, a writer, moved to Berlin four years ago and met a British man with whom she now cohabits and has a 16-month-old son (though they are not married; in Europe, American gals’ preoccupation with “getting the ring” is viewed in many quarters as hopelessly bourgeois). “In the U.S., there are all these fairly ritualized things both men and women are supposed to do in the early stages of dating to show the other person you’re not desperate or psycho, like waiting a certain amount of time after you get someone’s number before you text or call them,” Ms. Yager said. “[Here] if you were interested in having a relationship, you could show it much more directly and immediately. … We were not even living together at the time he suggested we have a baby.” Yes, dear reader, he suggested it.
New York’s socialites have been leading the way in the trend of handpicking one’s beau overseas: Vogue editor Lauren Santo Domingo (nee Davis) married the Colombian billionaire Andres Santo Domingo two years ago after meeting him in Paris in 2001; Tinsley Mortimer has reportedly dated London-residing Prince Casimir Sayn-Wittgenstein-Sayn (“Cassie”) after leaving Topper; and it was recently announced that Norah Lawlor, the 43-year-old publicist and longtime singleton, had wed a 39-year-old Brit. “I love the traditional values and worldliness of Brits,” Ms. Lawlor chirped in an email message.
Think of it as the reverse of the Russian mail-order bride: importing an agreeable, commitment-submissive Euro-husband, or finding him in his natural habitat.
About two years ago, a 27-year-old woman we’ll call Sarah was passing through Berlin on her way to Prague and met a German man at a local kiosk. After several transatlantic visits, Sarah moved from her place in Carroll Gardens to Berlin to be with him, and they were married a few weeks ago (she asked that her name be withheld for family reasons).
“He was so direct and serious from the beginning. ‘I have these feeling about you, I have these concerns about where this could go, I feel such-and-such way, what do you feel?’” said Sarah. “It was so communicative!”
In the German language, according to Sarah, there isn’t even a term for what us New York gals call “dating.” “Either you have a boyfriend or you don’t. Or people are sleeping with each other, and we have a term for that also, but no word for dating—that ambiguous word about a romantic connection, when you’re not just sleeping with someone, and yet there is no commitment there.”
Giulia Pines, 24, also met her German boyfriend, a jazz musician, through a friend one day after moving to Berlin three months ago, and he has already revealed that he would like to marry her someday. “New York men always think there is something better right around the corner and they make that very, very obvious,” said Ms. Pines, who grew up on the Upper West Side and attended Columbia. “It doesn’t even seem like a feeling that they should hide for the sake of whoever they are with.”
As an undergraduate, Ms. Pines had a romance with an Italian grad student who was also her teacher. Her advice for finding a Euro-boyfriend? “I would really say areas where grad students hang out, like up near Columbia or at N.Y.U.,” said Ms. Pines. “Of course, if you want the playboys or Russian oil heirs with a lot of money, you can always head to whatever club-of-the-week has just opened downtown. But then you’ll be competing with the models!”
Ms. Locascio also suggested that New York gals can find a Euro-husband in comp lit or foreign-language departments. “And I know there is a translation master’s at Columbia that probably attracts a bunch of foreigners,” she said. But: “I think there is a fine line between attracting a marriage-happy versus a green-card-happy European man. Honestly, I never had any luck meeting anyone, American or not, in a bar, but that said, you could probably go to the foreign-seeming places like Anyway Café, Café Sabarsky at the Neue Gallery or the restaurant at the Scandinavian American Center.”
The women interviewed for this article insisted that green cards were not an issue in their relationships. In Ms. Locascio’s case, the work visa her fiancé is awaiting would not require that they be married for him to stay here. “We would still get married [if he gets the visa], but it wouldn’t be so shotgun,” she said.
THE CHEATING CAVEAT
Meanwhile, the Euro-man has perhaps become aware of his competitive advantage over New York men. Mr. Locascio’s boyfriend, Theis Dueland-Jensen, is “baffled” by her tales of dating in New York.
“I was surprised with how I compared to Lisa’s previous boyfriends,” he said on the morning after their engagement. “My feelings for Lisa were just very apparent to me from the beginning, and it never crossed my mind to be hesitant or doubtful about it. It just seemed like a very healthy choice for me emotionally. I quickly learned that it was going to be a serious thing, and I guess I just embraced that. I do think Lisa had to sort of adjust to my willingness towards commitment.”
Sarah’s Herr, whom we’ll call Jack, was also surprised by the male population of New York. “Having heard some of my dating horror stories, he can only shake his head in disbelief and throw up his hands like the rest of us,” she said. “Who can explain New York men? There was one night when we were out with a bunch of New York men, and he was pretty underwhelmed with the way in which they conducted themselves—that they don’t listen to other people talk and are completely unchivalrous. He found them to be socially inept, insecure, and some of them he thought must be simply bad people.”
But what makes the European hunks so commitment-happy—a phase that typically takes many New York men until their 40s to reach? Perhaps it’s because they’re used to the kind of economic crisis that is now making our unaccustomed local boys (bonjour, Topper!) so whiny and insecure. Or maybe it’s the surplus of E.U. benefits—free day care, health care and tax benefits even for unmarried couples—that makes the possibility of contented ménage a more realistic proposition at an earlier age.
“Culturally, commitment is a lot different than it is here,” said Mr. Deuland-Jensen. “For instance, it’s so hard for a single parent to survive in the States, whereas my friend who recently became a father back home is not married to his girlfriend, and they could get married as sort of a nice ceremony, but it’s not needed. Their future doesn’t depend on it.”
It is possible, of course, that the European man is fearless of commitment precisely because he’s not totally committing, like all those French prime ministers with mistresses showing up at the funeral.
“Most men you meet here are in really serious relationships and they happen very, very quickly,” said Ms. Pines. “But they also seem to cheat a lot more in these serious relationships. So it’s actually very common that you have someone you’re living with and then you have a few people on the side.”
Ms. Pines, who is 24, says she is not ready to marry, but her German boyfriend has begun to build a convincing argument.
“We both made our sides very clear when we started dating,” she said. “He said, ‘I want to get married soon,’ and I said, ‘I have no interest in that.’ But I think things have gotten very serious very quickly and it’s something I would consider for the future, assuming we stay together. You do get wrapped up in this German idea of all of this commitment!”
As for Ms. Locascio, she couldn’t be happier with her Dane. “I told him I always thought I was going to just have to date some guy for eight years and then wait him out until he was finally like, ‘O.K., let’s get married,’” she said. “And he would say, ‘Why would you want to marry that guy?’ And I’d say, ‘I don’t want to marry that guy!’”